National Press Club

Navy secretary Mabus tells Club Luncheon that U.S. is reversing ship decline

April 30, 2015 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a Club Luncheon audience April 30 that the government is reserving a decline in the number of ships but will have to find money to maintain the nation's ballistic submarine force.

A former governor of Mississippi, home to one of the country's major shipbuilding facilities, Mabus predicted that the Navy will remain in the forefront to technical innovation to help maintain freedom of the seas for the U.S. and all of the world's trading nations. He said that 90 percent of the world's trade relies on shipments by sea and that the U.S. can respond to efforts to interfere with shipping, such as Iran's recent seizure of a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz. His comments came as the U.S. announced that the Navy will accompany all U.S.-flagged ships passing through the strait.

Mabus said the U.S. "has got to have enough grey hulls on the horizon" to maintain some 70 years of keeping sea lanes open "not just for us but for everyone." The number are increasing; 70 ships have been put under contract in the last five years to increase the size of the fleet t0 304 by 2020, following a decline from 316 in 2001 to 278 in 2008, before President Obama took office.

The secretary said the Navy will remain at the leading edge of technology to remain the world's top naval force, citing a newly deployed experimental ship-based laser capable to destroying drones and small ships, and remotely piloted vehicles that can be refueled in midair. He predicted that the F-35 Joint Strike Force fighter plane now under development will be the the nation's last manned fighter because it will be replaced by remotely piloted aircraft. He said 10-year-olds might still grow up to be military pilots but newborns will not.

Mabus said the U.S. faces a major funding challenge in 2021 when Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines will have to be replaced. Without new funding, half of the Navy's shipbuilding budget will go to rebuilding the undersea leg of the nation's nuclear deterrent triad.

Asked about the impact of his decision in 2010 to assign women to submarine billets, Mabus said it has caused less controversy than the subsequent banning of smoking on subs. He said the Navy needs to recruit and retain more women and that he supports having women serve in all other roles if they can meet the physical requirements.

The Navy is moving quickly to use biofuels and other renewable forms of energy because Mabus said they are becoming economically viable, don't depend on unstable foreign oil suppliers and are better for the environment. He said only aircraft carriers and submarines will be nuclear powered.

Mabus singled out head table guest John Warner, a former Navy secretary and U.S. senator from Virginia. A Virginia-class submarine named for Warner will be commissioned on Aug. 15.

While the U.S. has the best naval force it has ever had, "it is under a lot of stress" due to new challenges around the world. He said the administration is urging allies to increase their funding for naval forces. "We have got to have partnerships with others," he said.